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30 March 2017

Speaking in Tongues - a concert retrospective

Tim Dargaville Image: Tim Dargaville  
© Rosalie Hastwell

The music of Tim Dargaville will be featured in a full-length 'Speaking in Tongues' portrait concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. The centrepiece of this event is the world premiere of Dargaville's 2014 Albert H. Maggs commission Between Breath and Word. Also to be premiered is a major new solo piano work for pianist Bernadette Harvey titled Kolam, alongside other recent works.

Over its 50-year history, the Albert H Maggs Award, awarded by the University of Melbourne, has regularly commissioned new works and provided resources for their performance, creating an extensive legacy in contemporary Australian music. Recipients of this award include composers Keith Humble, Anne Boyd, Barry Conyngham, Andrew Ford, Mary Finsterer, and Julian Yu, among many other notable Australian artists.

Albert H. Maggs himself was a bookmaker and philanthropist, born in 1916 in Brunswick, Melbourne. One of five children of a shopkeeper, he studied actuarial science, skills from which he later used in his bookmaking business. Also a pianist who studied at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium, and a patron of the musical and theatrical arts, Albert Maggs contributed an initial $10,000 in 1966 to found an annual prize for new music composition, providing subsequent donations later on. Funding for new music composition and performance at this time, before the Australia Council and other philanthropic trusts, was virtually non-existent, so, in retrospect, Mr Maggs's foresight could be seen as visionary. Certainly the legacy of new works and premieres since the first award to Nigel Butterley in 1967 should be seen as a major contribution in establishing and furthering the cultural conversation around Australian new music.

I had the good fortune to win this award in 2014. It has provided me with not only the opportunity to create an ambitious work for a large chamber ensemble, but also the means to share it through a public performance outcome. The award has allowed me to undertake the making of a new work, connect with wonderful performers in helping devise and prepare the context in which the work will be heard and also, most importantly, invite an audience to experience and respond to it. This is still a rare opportunity in the Australian contemporary music scene.

The program for the 'Speaking in Tongues' concert is built around guest artists pianist Bernadette Harvey and harpist Marshall McGuire, both of whom have long championed my music. I felt it was important to acknowledge the significant role that Bernadette and Marshall have played in commissioning new work from contemporary Australian composers, including myself, and connect that to the significant history of this award. Members of the New Music Studio at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music will also be featured, conducted by Elliott Gyger.

The concept for the event draws on a long-standing interest in creating new work from intercultural experiences. The event title, in fact, comes from a recently published research paper on the Kolam piano cycle1. This five-movement composition is part of a body of new music I have been developing for nearly 10 years, inspired by the South Indian ritual mandala form of kolam. Central to the sonic rendering of this visual art form are rhythmic patterns and processes derived from the Carnatic vocal percussion tradition of konnakol, which I studied in Bangalore, South India, as an Asialink artist in residence on two separate occasions, and which I have utilised as a creative stimulus in the cycle.

The 2014 Albert H Maggs commission, Between Breath and Word, was written with this event in mind, and as such refers to some of the other works on the program, with the aim of providing a dramatic summation to the whole concert. Bernadette Harvey and Marshall McGuire are central protagonists in the ensemble of eight, with New Music Studio wind and string players surrounding them. The music unfolds as a kind of ceremony, gradually building in virtuosic intensity before finally dissolving.

It's been wonderful to have an 18-month period to develop this work and to witness new aspects of compositional language and process come into being as a result. I hope that this retrospective, featuring works from this recent decade of my creative life, will be illuminating, I also hope that the evening will be a fine celebration, testament to the significant contribution of the Albert H Maggs Award to the cultural conversation around Australian new music.

Event details

Tim Dargaville Composer Portrait - Friday 28 April at 6pm, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre - full details in the AMC Calendar

Further links

Tim Dargaville - AMC profile

Tim Dargaville on his Kolam cycle of works (Resonate article 26 February 2016)


1) Tim Dargaville: 'Speaking in Tongues - an investigation into a compositional practice informed by intercultural exploration'. Published in Perspectives on Artistic Research in Music (ed. Burke and Onsman), Lexington Books, 2017.

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